Ruchenköpfe (Bavarian Alps; 5,918')

The Ruchenköpfe are a classic climbing destination near Lake Schliersee south of Munich. The cable car to the Taubenstein has made them even more popular, as it makes the approach a leisurely stroll with no net elevation gain. Unfortunately, the classic standard route is so polished that it is no longer recommended. The South Face offers less abused, though harder, classic routes, and the whole formation is by now covered in bolts that protect myriad sport routes in an alpine setting. To help people keep track of the squeeze jobs the names and grades are painted in red on the rock at the start of each route (and I'm absolutely sure that the people who do this all faithfully vote for the Green Party!).

A word about alpine ratings .


West Ridge (II)


M. and E. Zebhauser, Bayrische Voralpen Ost (Rudolf Rother, Munich 1992)

R. Goedeke, Bayrische Alpen Nordtirol (Bergverlag Rother, Munich 2004)

The Ruchenköpfe from the northwest in July

Date: July 17, 2005

Party: DB solo

Routes: W Ridge (to the base of the chimney)

Equipment: None (bad idea)

Time: Allow 4 to 5 hrs roundtrip from the Taubenstein cable car (more for a hard route, or for more than one route)

Trip report:

This was our last day in Germany, and my inlaws had scheduled a family reunion. Of course it was one out of two days during our entire stay when the weather was nice. When it turned out that some of the family members to be reunited would not show up until late afternoon my mood got even worse than it had been before. Monique defused the situation by suggesting that I make a quick solo trip to the mountains and be back for dinner. It was 10am, and we were at least an hour's drive from any mountain, but it did not take much persuasion on her part. By 10:15 I was on my way, carrying only climbing shoes and a quart of water. My plan was to flash the standard route on the Ruchenköpfe, a classic I had never done. The rating is II on the UIAA scale, which can translate to anything between third class and 5.3, depending on which dictionary one uses. As it turned out I never had a chance, the easy rating notwithstanding, but I had a good time nonetheless.

I took the cable car to the Taubenstein and hiked around the Rotwand to the Ruchenköpfe in 45 minutes (the guidebook says 1.5 hours, but apparently these times are meant for tourists). There were several parties at work, and I started to worry about not having taken a helmet. The lower part of the West Ridge was fun climbing on very solid rock. In places it was a bit stiff for third class, to put it mildly, especially on variations I took to avoid the polish, but I felt very solid and enjoyed the exposure. Pretty soon I arrived at the base of the last steep step that leads up to the summit. At this point there is only one way to go if one wants to keep the technical difficulty low: Up a steep, blocky chimney. The steel cable the guide book talks about was nowhere to be seen, but the condition of the rock left no doubt about where the route went; it is polished to a degree that makes a Michelangelo marble statue look as if it had been sand blasted. I started up the chimney twice, only to retreat each time. I would have gone up, although it would not have been pleasant, but I did NOT want to downclimb this section. (The guidebook by Richard Goedeke, who likes flowery languange, calls the route "freakishly polished". No shit!) If I had brought a rope for going down I would have done it; if I had at least brought a harness I could have bummed a rappel, but without either I decided to enjoy the view and then back down. The routes on the South Face looked very nice and not (yet) polished, but they are too hard for me to solo them (IV and higher); I'll have to return with a belayer.

While I was enjoying the view, some kind of a Sunday afternoon circus unfolded. A mother-and-son team were busy drilling new rap anchors and marking them so well they can probably be seen from Munich (they told me two weeks before a father-and-daughter team, no relation of theirs, had fallen to their deaths after missing the rap anchors), the parties above started showering rocks down the south face, a father with his seven-year old ran out a traverse 150 feet until he was out of earshot, leaving the kid stranded while facing a 50-foot pendulum fall onto a ledge, etc. etc.

I helped another party rescue the stranded kid, at the end of which operation the leader of the other party told the scared boy in Bavarian dialect, "and now you go and tell your daddy you want to go down THIS INSTANT", then I got on my way. After downclimbing the lower part of the ridge I still ran up the Rotwand, to bag at least one summit, threw in the middle of the Rotwand's subsidiary summits for good measure, then took the cable car back down and arrived with plenty of time to spare before the family dinner. I suspect the Ruchenköpfe are really nice if one stays away from the freakish standard route and from Sundays; I'll definitely be back some time!

Photo Gallery:

Click the pictures to see a higher resolution image.

The Ruchenköpfe from just below the Rotwand hut. My high point was the base of the last block leading to the summit. A knife-edge horizontal portion of the lower West Ridge. The subsidiary (and more interesting) summits of the Rotwand. The Ruchenköpfe seen from the main (and less interesting) summit of the Rotwand. The Rotwand from the north. The Ruchenköpfe are just barely visible behind the saddle. Wildlife Bavarian style.